It’s the first day of the rest of your life. You’re starting over, dedicating years to somewhere new, full of opportunity — and also full of so many nameless faces, faces you don’t recognize. You float in a sea of bobbing heads, pool into a lecture hall, and shuffle uncomfortably in one of those stupid seats with the desks attached (seriously, what on earth are we supposed to do if we’re left-handed?) You can’t concentrate because you feel the room humming with life, and it overwhelms you.
So, you have found yourself at OCAD. Canada’s largest art and design university. Months of working on your admissions portfolio and waiting for that glorious letter in the mail has all lead up to this. You attend orientation and meet some cool new people, and the next day you find yourself in your first class. And it’s not what you have expected at all. In fact, it’s a lot harder. The transition into post-secondary is difficult for most people. So, here’s some advice, not only for how to make your way around OCAD, but hopefully beyond.
1. Talking to people and making friends can be difficult, especially at OCAD, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Talk to peers in your program. Arrange to meet with people who you normally wouldn’t talk to. Help form your own community and network of friends. Yeah, it’s scary to be the first one to try to get everyone together, but if you don’t try, who will? These are the people who will be with you throughout this entire journey, so might as well try to be their friend.
2. Unless you absolutely have to, don’t schedule yourself for extra-long days. Especially if you have to commute. Sure, you’ll think, “I’ll just chill at school for six hours between classes, it’ll be fine”. Think again. Just being here is absolutely exhausting, and guaranteed, you will want to go home two hours in. If you don’t commute very far… still don’t do it. Coming back to school after you’ve been home is awful. You’ve just managed to make yourself comfortable at home and the last thing you will want to do is make the 15-minute walk to school or make your way to the subway station. It will suck. Especially in the winter. And if you live right across the street … you lucky son of a bitch.
3. Dear God, if you can, try to pack a lunch. You have no idea how much money you will save. Eating out is so much more expensive than you think, and it starts adding up. Get some cheap Tupperware, and just fill it with leftovers from last night’s dinner; it’s really not that difficult. Coffee everyday adds up too, so try to limit how much you drink. But let’s be real, you go to OCAD; coffee is probably in your blood. So, just invest in a portable mug if you really can’t break the habit.   
4. I hate to break it to you, but you have to learn how to discipline yourself. Going to school here is going to be a ton of hard work if you really want to succeed. Get an agenda or a notebook, and actually write down everything you have due, and everything you need to do to meet those deadlines. Know when to stop having fun and get to work. Pay attention in lecture. The things you remember might just save your ass on an exam. And don’t hesitate to ask your peers for critique and feedback. Your eyes won’t be the only ones looking at your work when it’s done, so why would you make it that way when you are working?
5. Talk to your profs. Just do it. It will make everything much more clear, and you’ll actually be able to give them what they want if you start a dialogue. But, don’t let what they say be your creative limit. Take what they say and stretch the boundaries. Break the rules, and then put them back together.
It’s so easy to find yourself fumbling and tumbling like a snowball down a cliff, getting larger and larger as your brain packs on questions like: “How will I make friends?” “What if nobody talks to me?” What if people think I’m weird?” “What if people don’t like me?” You know it all sounds silly, but nonetheless, it is scary. The good news is that literally everyone else has those kinds of thoughts, and if they claim they don’t, they are simply trying to impress you. Because, you see, we’re all trying to impress each other, all trying to fit in, and you’re not the slightest bit weird for feeling a little insecure.

Here are some things to remember when you walk into a lecture hall or a studio class, and you don’t spot a face smiling at you with recognition:
1. Remember you’re far cooler than you think you are. This isn’t high school, this is OCAD. We’re all a bit strange, and proud of it. Artists and designers are quirky, and it’s part of what makes us good at what we do. Don’t ever try to suppress your inner weirdo, because there are plenty of people in this school who’ll love every bit of who you are.

2. Express yourself! Dress the way you want, style your hair the way you want, do your makeup, show off your tattoos, speak your mind. This is a place where passionate voices are welcomed and encouraged, and whether you speak with your voice, your physical appearance, your art, etc., people will listen and appreciate what’s been said.

3. Group work is your best (opportunity to make a) friend. If a TA suggests you complete an assignment in a group, take that opportunity to introduce yourself to new people. If they’re in your tutorial, they’re in your lecture, and introducing yourself means you might just find someone to sit with during class.

4. It’s okay to lack confidence some days, and it’s definitely not something worth beating yourself up about. There’s always tomorrow! Just remember to pick yourself back up, and try again.

5. Break the ice by learning how to laugh at your discomfort. When you speak awkwardly out loud, it makes it significantly more funny than awkward. Chances are, whomever you’re speaking with is just as nervous as you are, and they’ll feel much better laughing about it instead of trying to pretend the nervous energy isn’t there.

 

On top of that, OCAD is an incredibly creative environment, but ocad students also tend to enjoy their beds and you can’t blame them. After a long material explorations class or a six hour studio class, most people just want the unparalleled comfort of a pillow next to their head and possibly a good episode of The Office before hitting the hay. On the other hand however, there are things to do at OCAD believe it or not. Exploration is key when it comes to clubs at OCAD. Check out posters around the school and they could lead you to some very fun people and events.
One of the best known groups is The Grind, a club for entrepreneurs to create an open community for students looking to make connections and have fun doing it. Plus, they have food so that’s five dollars that are in your pocket rather than being spent at Popeyes or McDonalds.
Then, you have Nuit Blanche that just passed! If you didn’t go, it is an art exhibition held all over Toronto, and one of the main sites is OCAD and the AGO. It can be hard to get out of the house on a Saturday, but it is one of the best opportunities to see art outside of the AGO. No free food for this event but super artsy-fartsy just like our students. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Just a couple of hundreds of the things you can do here at OCAD. Also remember, you’re in downtown Toronto! Live it up. But of course, the most important thing to remember is, between barely making your deadlines, losing your lecture notes, commuting back and forth, getting destroyed in critique and the emotional breakdowns in the bathroom, don’t forget to have fun. Try new things. Get lost in the city. Get your heart broken. Do something wrong. Stand up for what you believe in. Meet people cooler than you could ever imagine. And never forget to be your truest self, no matter who that is. Nobody can write a rulebook for these kinds of things, because creating worthwhile experiences isn’t as simple as copying and pasting some advice you’ve read in a magazine, but if you take anything from this article, I hope it’s reassurance that there’s absolutely no pressure from anyone else but yourself. Everything about making friends and forming bonds with new people in this community is done at your own pace. You won’t run out of time or miss your opportunity. This is your chance to meet like-minded individuals who value a creative environment and appreciate your innovative thoughts and ideas. This is a space where you can find people who support you and care for you, and you can’t rush that kind of thing.
We can end this with a cliché “Be true to yourself and everything will be fine.” A quote by Ellen Degeneres, because she’s someone we can all trust.

Writing by Tomasso Budani, Bri Robertson, Francisco Lethbridge and Sydney Gittens